A deadly parasite known to create “zombie bees” has been discovered for the first time in the southern United States. Just outside Roanoke, Virginia, scientists found the mysterious bug known for indiscriminately killing honeybees.

More than annoying pests

The tiny insects attach themselves to bees and inject their eggs. Afterwards, the bee begins to act inconsistent to normal behavior as if possessed or in a “zombie-like” state. The inoculated pollinator starts flying at night and toward light before dying a few hours later. Within a day or two, fly larvae erupt out of the dead bee. The voracious pest essentially eats its way out of the body.

Slowly spreading

With this discovery in Virginia, scientists fear the parasite is much more widespread than previously thought. The pest was first noticed in California around 2008, then later in Oregon, South Dakota, and New York. The “zombie bee” may have something to do with the recent decline of honeybee numbers throughout the U.S., according to some biologists.

Amateur discovery

John Hafernik, a professor at San Francisco State University and “zombie bee” expert, reached out to numerous beekeepers and requested they report any activity related to the parasite. One part-time Virginia beekeeper, Lynn Berry, noticed his bees behaving oddly and contacted the professor. Berry reported many of his bees were buzzing around an outdoor garage light during the night and then were dead by morning.

He put the remains in a jar covered with cheesecloth. A couple days later, the apiarist found maggots had appeared inside.

Too early to be alarmed

As the discovery spreads nationwide, other honeybee farmers have begun collecting bee carcasses. With more people looking, more cases are likely be found.

However, Richard Fell at Virginia Tech says it is too early to be worried. According to him, other parasites can kill bees in a similar fashion and do not have a significant effect on the population.

In addition to the “zombie bee” parasite, the honeybee population is also susceptible to mites, viruses, and a phenomenon known as Colony Collapse Disorder.

Honeybee farming is a huge business and contributes several billion dollars to the U.S. agricultural industry every year.

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